The Lion King movie poster
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The Lion King
The Lion King movie poster

The Lion King Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

Disney is here. Give them your money. That, my friends, is the underlying artistic hook of 2019’s The Lion King, a beautiful, visual feast of antelope and elephants and other pretty things that has absolutely no reason to exist other than to generate a billion dollars in profit for a company that doesn’t need another billion dollars in profits.

How much you enjoy this recreation of The Lion King will rest wholly on your willingness to pay money to watch the exact same movie you have already seen, and perhaps own, only with questionably upgraded visuals. 

It’s basically painting lipstick on a warthog. If that warthog was already a perfect being that didn’t need lipstick in the first place.

1994’s The Lion King, which debuted a year before Toy Story and the quick decline of traditionally animated blockbusters, is still considered one of Disney’s greatest films, and for good reason. It’s funny, it’s emotional, and everything in between. The music is memorable, the animation incredible, the story spot on.

Why director Jon Favreau, who did a stellar job with Disney’s remake of The Jungle Book (a movie that arguably warranted a remake since it a) starred a human; and b) was based on a movie most people hadn’t seen in decades), would want to not only remake a film already regarded as a masterpiece but also remake the film on a shot-by-shot basis, is baffling.

Aside from the boatload of money he’ll make off it, of course.

And that’s why I struggled with this new version of The Lion King so much: while all major films are designed to make money for their corporate overlords, this one seems to exist solely to make money.

The new Lion King looks great--the visual effects are easily Oscar-worthy--but the movie is still a film about talking animals; by using photorealistic animals set against photorealistic backdrops throughout, Favreau loses the ability to really let loose and have fun with the material the way the 1994 version did; it lacks the charm and charisma of the original.

Some of the musical numbers still elicit the right emotional chords, and the voice cast is largely solid… though for whatever reason I didn’t love Donald Glover as Simba. But again, is Chiwetel Ejiofor really an upgrade over Jeremy Irons as Scar? And do we need to hear James Earl Jones voice the same lines he did 25 years ago?

Further, this new version is half an hour longer than its predecessor, despite only having minor narrative differences… in short, Favreau injected half an hour of bloat (along with one new fairly forgettable song, for Oscar qualifying reasons) into a near-perfect movie. Even while it entertains, it drags.

The Lion King’s visual effects/animation departments deserve every kudos thrown their way, and upgraded aesthetics combined with the exact same story/script may very well be enough for the majority of audiences. But this modernized version feels long, even sort of boring at times, a muted, less energetic and less fun version of the movie many of us know and love. It isn’t bad. It’s just wholly unnecessary, an explicit attempt by Disney to make you pay for what you probably already own.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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